Wole Soyinka, 78, Nigerian Nobel laureate, at a media conference on Friday, said that Nigeria is "at war" with the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram and that the government should not negotiate with them being "mass murderers."
AFP reports that Soyinka told foreign media at an international conference held in Lagos, "When I say, 'don't talk to murderers,' that is exactly what I mean. Don't talk to mass murderers. Don't talk to those who have made the killing of innocent people their philosophy."
Soyinka argued that attempting to deal with the militant Islamic sect through dialogue amounts to trying to appease murderers. He said that was unacceptable. According to AFP, he said: "... you, the assaulted, say, 'please, come and talk to us. Please, we don't know what you want' ... What kind of language is that? That is the language of abysmal appeasement."
The playwright's statement comes after a series of attempts by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to open a dialogue with the sect that has waged a bloody insurgency in the northern parts of the country since 2009. Reuters reports that recently, a man who claimed he was a spokesman of the group, told reporters in Maiduguri, the group's stronghold in the northeast, that it was willing to talk if imprisoned members of the group were released.
Reuters, however, reports that Abubakar Shekau, widely recognized as the leader of the militant faction of Boko Haram, said the group will not talk with the Nigerian government. He said the goal of Boko Haram is to impose the sharia Islamic law in a country with more than half the population Christian.
Digital Journal reported in March that a spokesman of the sect told reporters that they have "closed all doors of negotiation with a government of unbelievers" and called on Muslims to join the "fight for restoration of the caliphate." Digital Journal reported that Abul Qaqa, who purports to speak for the sect, said: "Almighty Allah has told us repeatedly that the unbelievers will never respect the promises they made. As such, henceforth, we will never respect any proposal for dialogue." He added: "In fact, we have closed all possible doors of negotiation. We would never listen to any call for negotiations. Let the government forces do whatever they feel they can do, and we too would use all the wherewithal at our disposal and do what we can."
Digital Journal also reported in August that Boko Haram denied media reports that it was holding talks with the Nigerian government. The group threatened to attack media outlets spreading the rumor, saying it would fight against those who oppose them "with the pen."
However, analysts have noted that Boko Haram has been slippery in its demands, raising suspicions about more complex political undertones to its insurgency.
Soyinka alluded to allegations that politicians have sponsored the group. He said that politicians “activated this brainwashed horde of religious militants. That’s how it started.” According to Soyinka, Boko Haram went out of control after they realized they were being manipulated by their political sponsors.
The Washington Post reports that Soyinka, however, dismissed calls for peace negotiations with sect, saying that the fundamental issue at stake was survival of Nigerian society.
At the conference held in Lagos, he said: "Don't talk to mass murderers. You are not obliged to talk to those who made the killing of innocent people their philosophy." He added: "This is a security issue. It becomes a question of who goes down: is it the community? Is it society? is it the nation? Or is it a bunch of killers who are totally beyond control?"
He described Boko Haram leaders as "extremists" who have "brainwashed" youths. He also blamed government for bad leadership which breeds poverty and makes youths vulnerable to extremist indoctrination.
He acknowledged that the Nigerian military committed gross human rights violations during the campaign against Boko Haram. Right groups have accused the Nigerian military of summary executions and torturing of suspects. AFP reports that Amnesty International accused the Nigerian authorities of gross human rights violations. Human Rights Watch says the Nigerian military could be guilty of crimes against humanity.
Soyinka, supporting the views of the human rights groups, said: "There has been the condemnable scorched earth policy of the military."
Soyinka voiced the widely held view among Nigerians that the Nigerian military does not have the right professional training and orientation to deal with Boko Haram insurgency. He said: "The military has never had to cope with this kind of insurgency and so the military is making a lot of blunders. There have been incidents of the violation of fundamental human rights, absolutely. We are at war and a lot of horrible things happen."
The Washington Post notes that in the fight against Boko Haram, the Nigerian military authorities have employed crude and indiscriminately violent tactics, and killed dozens of civilians in reprisal attacks.
Soyinka is one of Nigeria's leading playwrights and for long a radical critic of the Nigerian political establishment and governments. He clashed with General Yakubu Gowon's government during the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War) and spent two years in solitary confinement in Kaduna.
According to AFP, more than 2,800 people have died in the the Boko Haram insurgency. The Washington Post reports that a recent Associated Press count estimated that 740 people have been killed in Boko Haram violence this year, including three police officers in a bomb attack in Yobe early on Friday morning.